Teenagers Are Injured at Twice the Rate of Adult Workers
When you were little, your parents probably told you not to play with matches, and to look both ways before you cross the street. (My mother still warns me to not mix ammonia and bleach when cleaning my home in Indianapolis.) So when you got your first summer job—maybe as a dishwasher, a cashier, construction helper, or lifeguard—you were told all you need to know about staying healthy and safe at work, right?

Of course not. We don’t prepare kids to protect themselves at work. In fact, as a society, we pretty much do nothing—we send teenagers off to their first jobs with hardly a word about how to recognize hazards, what to do in an emergency, or who to go to if they feel unsafe. SAFETY MATTERS Predictably, this lack of preparation has contributed to needless suffering for thousands of young people and their families. Every year, nearly 60,000 kids under the age of 18 are sent to the emergency room for job-related injuries, and around 40 of these young workers die on the job. 
We can’t have teenagers die at work. To fight this, AIHA has partnered with NIOSH to develop a training module called Safety Matters. Safety Matters is designed to raise awareness among teen workers about staying healthy and safe at work through learning to identify hazards in real-world situations, stories from teens injured at work, and interactive group discussions. The module takes only one hour to deliver, so it’s perfect for use by AIHA members, many of whom are already connected to students and schools in their local areas. Now we have a ready-made, professionally designed module that we can present to any group of young people—from a ninth-grade health or shop class to a local scout troop.
Safety Matters is based on a more robust NIOSH curriculum called “Talking Safety,” which is delivered over multiple interactive sessions. Safety Matters distills the lessons presented in Talking Safety into a shorter format, and even has a component on what it means to be an IH.
It’s almost time for kids to go back to school—challenge your Local Section to get Safety Matters out there this fall.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION There are three main ways that AIHA members can help bring the message of workplace health and safety to young people:
Find opportunities to deliver the Safety Matters module to young people. Your neighborhood school is a sure bet, but also seek out opportunities in community- or faith-based groups. Become a Safety Matters ambassador and receive a PDF of the module—more than 500 people have already signed up.
Get the full Talking Safety curriculum adopted by your local school system. Is your neighbor a teacher? Is your sister-in-law the former principal? I bet we are all about two phone calls away from finding the right person to make this happen.
Ask your elected representatives to require awareness-level workplace health and safety training for all young people. Last year, the State of Oklahoma passed a law requiring that information regarding workplace health and safety training be made available to school districts for grades seven through twelve. The model legislation can be found in the Safety Matters Center, along with some talking points and a letter template you can edit and use to start the conversation. 
Our members are making this happen right now at schools and with lawmakers in Minnesota, Idaho, Colorado, California, and beyond. This past spring I gave public comment on this at the Indiana State Board of Education meeting when they convened to re-think the high school diploma. It’s almost time for kids to go back to school—challenge your Local Section and challenge your Student Local Section to pick this up and get Safety Matters out there this fall.
Be sure to let me know your successes with this over the coming school year.
STEVEN LACEY, PHD, CIH, CSP, is AIHA president and chair of Environmental Health Science at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He can be reached at (317) 274-3120 or selacey@iu.edu.